INDIANAPOLIS – Big Ten Football Media Days are underway from the field at Lucas Oil Stadium and while seven teams took the podium and breakout sessions, one of the biggest stories around the annual event is the talk of expansion, what we know with USC and UCLA and what we don’t know when it comes to future steps.
Tuesday was the first time that many people have had a chance to talk to Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren in quite some time, at least since the news of the impending arrival of USC and UCLA to start the 2024 season. Warren knew that he was going to be asked about it and was able to head things off at the pass in his opening statements as the Big Ten is now set to become 16-strong, at least in the very near future.
“I’m embracing change,” Warren said. “I’m going to be very aggressive. I’ve been that way my entire career. And I just want to make sure we build an environment, because our student-athletes and our fans and our universities deserve that. I just want to make sure we’re aggressive how we build this. We’ve got to do it in the right way for the right reasons at the right time.”
Just a year ago it was the SEC that controlled the news cycle when the story broke that Texas and Oklahoma were heading out of the Big 12 to the SEC. Now it is the Big Ten who holds the attention of the nation.
The Big Ten has never been a conference to shy away from trying to go outside of the box. Even this year the league will have its opening game in Ireland between Nebraska and Northwestern, a game that was supposed to take place previously but got moved due to a worldwide pandemic. Just another example of opportunities that the Big Ten feels that it can provide that other conferences may not be doing.
“How many young students — forget about sports, but in college — have an opportunity to travel to Dublin?” Warren asked.
This move with expansion also gives the Big Ten the chance to be part of all four major time zones in the United States, games could take place from that 12pm Eastern window all the way through the 10pm Eastern window, generally dubbed Pac-12 After Dark. A national reach for a national conference.
“We will have a footprint in the three major media markets from New York to Los Angeles to Chicago, which will allow us to be even bolder when it comes to corporate partnership and activation,” Warren said. “So, I’ll look forward to building a very successful and robust business in that area.”
There was hope of maybe learning about who the Big Ten television partners may be as the conference is ready to announce new lucrative deals that will support its membership like no other conference. We were promised that we would learn of that “sooner” rather than later and it sounds as if new partners would be part of the plans.
But Warren underplayed the monetary value of things and was much more about what these strategic partners would mean to the overall picture of the conference and that the dollars would be the last step.
That sounds nice but at the end of the day, these 16 schools need dollars to be able to operate and there will be lots of dollars to be had. And while schools like Nebraska, Maryland and Rutgers had to join the conference in more of an associate status before earning a full-share, that will not be the case for the two new teams, and likely anyone else that might come in with this wave of expansion.
“USC and UCLA will come in as full members,” Warren said. “We think that’s important for various reasons. They bring a lot of value to our relationship. They bring a lot of panache to our relationship, and we look forward to welcoming them into the Big Ten family here in 2024.”
And as for the question of what’s next?
“We will not expand just to expand. It will be strategic, it will add additional value to our conference, and it will provide a platform to even have our student-athletes be put on a larger platform so they can build their careers but also that they have an opportunity to grow and learn from an education and from an athletic standpoint,” Warren said.
Ohio State will take its turn at media days on Wednesday and we will have the chance to ask head coach Ryan Day as well as players Ronnie Hickman, Jaxon Smith-Njigba and C.J. Stroud their thoughts on all of this and more then, so don’t miss a single thing.